Back by popular demand

Hundreds of Chinese travellers celebrated Chinese New Year in February by travelling to the South Island.

Christchurch Airport and China Southern Airlines celebrated the return of the B787 Dreamliner, with the first of this summer's charter flights arriving on February 15.

Airport Chief Executive Malcolm Johns says visitors who enjoyed last year's inaugural charter flights had encouraged others to travel here this year.

"Just as last year's visitors did, the visitors from Guangzhou landed in Christchurch, then travelled around the South Island to enjoy the experiences they had heard so much about," he says.

"The South Island is our place in the world and Chinese visitors want to experience the wide open spaces, mountains, lakes, glaciers, starlit skies and all manner of adventures, as well as the famous southern hospitality. The charter visitors wanted to treat themselves to something special over Chinese New Year and since it heralds the beginning of The Year of The Sheep, it was even more fitting they land in Canterbury!"

General Manager New Zealand for China Southern Airlines, Mike Ma, says seats on the charter flight were keenly sought after.

"We were delighted to bring the February charters to Christchurch, the gateway to the spectacular South Island. Last year's charters were very popular and the GZL travel agency had lots of inquiries about seats on any available flights this year."

The celebration began soon after the visitors landed. They walked into the specially decorated Christchurch Airport terminal to be welcomed with performances by the Christchurch Pops Choir, with many visitors taking the opportunity to have a photo taken with a Canterbury sheep.

Mr Johns says the South Island continues to be New Zealand's fastest-growing travel destination for Chinese visitors, with Christchurch its natural gateway.

"Latest figures from Statistics NZ show Christchurch Airport has seen a more than 50% increase in the number of Chinese passengers in the 12 months to November 2014, compared to the previous year. That highlights the fascination Chinese travellers have for the South Island," he says.